I take the long way home.

I take the long way home.

As a born maximizer, I love my GPS: I like knowing the most efficient route to reach my destination.

But as I’ve gotten older (and wiser, I hope) I’ve realized there are more ways to measure efficiency than just speed and distance.

To illustrate: a story.

Once upon a time, I lived in the Chicago suburbs. Will and I thought long and hard about settling down in the Windy City after we got married.

We didn’t. The cost of living and brutal Chicago winters nudged us south, but a crucial third factor in my pro/con list was Roosevelt Road: a wide, strip-mall lined artery through Chicago’s western suburbs that I navigated regularly and hated with the fire of a thousand suns. (Or, perhaps, the fire of a thousand sputtering, exhaust-spewing engines.)

It was ugly, and slow, and ugly. I resented every minute I spent on that road, even if it was the fastest way to reach my destination.

(I suspect being an HSP was a factor.)

We ended up back in Louisville, where there’s a road that reminds me more and more of that dreaded Chicago thoroughfare with every passing year. (For the locals: Shelbyville Road. Shudder.)

I drove that road almost daily for years, until one day, undone by the weight of the burgeoning cell phone stores, and car dealerships, vast concrete parking lots, stoplights, and yet another Walgreens, I had a revelation: I could take the long way home.

nyc-traffic

I stopped driving the soul-sucking road that day. It’s been three years, and I haven’t looked back.

Unless my destination is actually on that horrible road, I don’t drive on it. Because time and gas are valuable resources, but so are my mental energy, my (generally) chipper attitude, and my patience with endless concrete landscapes.

A new project from Yahoo researchers aims to help pedestrians find the beautiful routes to their destinations, and not just the fastest ones. While distance is a factor, their algorithm also prioritizes finding routes that are “emotionally pleasant.”

On average, the beautiful routes are just 12 percent longer than the shortest ones: a price I’m happy to pay for a soul-filling route instead of a dreary one. (While they’re mapping pedestrian routes, and I’m in my vehicle, I’ve found driving a mere three blocks out of my way makes my own oft-traveled routes much more “emotionally pleasant.”)

As a maximizer, this strategy has its limits: when I’m traveling long distances, I take the interstate. But traveling a short distance out of my way—say, 12% or so—to prioritize beauty over speed is a small change that makes me much happier, on a daily basis.

I’ll sacrifice three minutes of my time for thirty minutes of “emotionally pleasant” travel any day.

I’d love to hear about the soul-sucking (or beautiful!) roads you travel and your own struggles with beauty vs. efficiency in comments.

P.S. Making myself make the effort, and books for the messy, winding road.

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70 comments

  1. Grace says:

    I love this idea! There’s a highway going straight through my town leading to each adjacent town, and, especially in the summer with a huge influx of tourists, the traffic is horrendous. I’m glad to be a local knowing the side streets, particularly alongside the lake, and taking the long way around. Even if it’s less efficient, I’m just glad to be actually moving, and the scenery is a huge bonus too.

  2. Esther says:

    I cannot believe how much Shelbyville Rd has changed. I’ve been travelling to Louisville for the past 16 years to visit my in-laws and the development is staggering. It’s also becoming quite developed heading out toward The Cardinal Club–and that used to be mainly farmland. Now we’re temporarily living in Japan where all you see is development. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of a pleasant, scenic route!

  3. Bonnie-Jean says:

    The long way home for me takes just an extra five minutes and the reward is beautiful views of the ocean – why wouldn’t you do it??!! However, my boys and husband don’t understand my need for this route: the boys moan that we’re going the long way with Master 3yo closing his eyes in protest at my exlclamations of how wonderful the ocean is & my husband (who prefers the woods) groans along with them but, will also indulge me and sometimes, if he’s driving, will even take the scenic route just for me. TRUE LOVE!!
    If I have to head across the city I make sure I’ve got a copy of Rodney Atkins – Take A Back Road in the car as I’ve found it almost as effective as views of the ocean in relieving the stress of driving in major traffic.

    ‘Emotionally Pleasant’ whenever possible I say!

  4. Steph says:

    Having lived on both sides of Lake Michigan (West Michigan and Chicago), I always try to take a route close the water. Seeing the water calms my soul. But it’s much more calming driving along the West Michigan lakefront than on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago…

  5. Jennifer H says:

    Ha ha! You can’t get me on Shelbyville Rd between Hurstbourne and the Lexington/Frankfort split during the Christmas shopping season! You’re right about the scenic route, too.

    I often go the back way to get to Shelbyville Rd in Middletown or Hurstbourne Pkwy (remember when it was Hurstbourne LANE?!) I never thought about it in your terms, but now it makes sense why I do this.

    • Anne says:

      I hate Hurstbourne Parkway even more than Shelbyville Road. I’ll just be grateful I don’t have to drive on that more than a few times a year! (I know those back routes you’re talking about really well. 🙂 )

  6. Annette says:

    Ha! I used to live in the Chicago suburbs too (moved for many of the same reasons) and remember well the horror of Roosevelt Rd. Maybe I should have tried to find an alternate route to TJs!
    On another note, you introduced me to the “I Love Toy Trains” DVDs a couple of years ago. If your kids are still into them, you should check out Mr. Muffin’s Train Store in Carmel, IN. Huge, amazing toy train set up (and also store).

  7. Katie says:

    I am just the opposite. I avoid the GPS at all costs and get so annoyed when my husband turns it on (which is every time he is in the car). I want to be able to look out the window and have the challenge of using my sense of direction. And I love discovering new ways to get to even familiar places. I’ll admit it sends me in circles sometimes, but I always learn something new from it.
    We drove from Houston to Richmond, VA (with two littles and two dogs) this summer and I talked my husband into making a loop instead of driving the same route twice. On the way there, we took the “long road” up through Arkansas, across Tennessee and North Carolina. I’ve always loved that part of the world and my husband was so glad we decided to go that way too. It added a few extra hours to the trip, but on a 20 hour drive, what’s a few extra hours. We stopped at gorgeous state parks all along the way and even got to spend two nights with my sister in Asheville.
    Oh and on that trip, I think even my husband learned that sometimes it is better to put the GPS away. When we first set out, I was driving and feeling anxious at the start of such a long trip. I kept asking my husband how many miles we had till our planned stop and he kept getting out his phone until he ended up just holding it in his hand and watching the route as we drove. We both found we were getting more and more anxious, even though we had three long days in the car and we only in the first hours of our drive. We had decided to drive for the experience of driving and the GPS was making us entirely results-focused. So after that first leg, we turned it off and only turned it back on when we were truly lost.

  8. Janice says:

    Ugg! In college I lived in Wheaton but took classes in the south side of Chicago, so I drove Roosevelt Road several times a week, usually during rush hour. Still makes me shudder.

    Just last year we moved to the mountains in Montana and although there is no long way any more (really just one road between me and town) I am refreshed EVERY time I drive it because it is so beautiful and peaceful. It’s been 11 months and my kids are starting to get bored by the fact that I gush about the scenery non-stop.

    It’s 60 miles to the nearest shopping area, but I’d take that drive to the 10 minutes I used to drive in the city any day!

  9. Beth Anne says:

    Love this post! I am blessed that when I did work as a nurse I got to take the road less traveled from small-town SC to Savannah. The fastest route was peaceful and scenic as I crossed bridges and looked at marshes, waterways, and lots of wide open space.

    The same is true when we head back home. The fastest route is through the remote mountains of West Virginia. There are plenty of gorges, and in the fall, exquisitely colored leaves, and in the winter, snowy paradise.

    I will have to re-think my routes when we are forced to move to a big city or the suburbs again!

  10. Andrea says:

    Totally agree (though my husband typically prefers the straight shot unless traffic is really bad). I prefer avoiding Shelbyville by taking roads behind the various grocery stores I’m trying to get to. I also love going to our church via Eastern Parkway rather than the interstate. Calm is more important to me than “efficiency” (unless I’m running late – ha!).

  11. I love this! I was in Chicago recently and thought afterward that I didn’t spend enough time in the prettier parts. As much as I like the funkiness of the “up and coming” spots, my soul needs some time in the parks and views of the lake. 🙂 Revelation: I’m too HSP to always hang with the hipster crowd, apparently.

  12. kimmie says:

    My sister lives in Crystal Lake and drives to Schaumburg for work. She takes the “country horse farm” roads….except when it snows and her cooper mini can’t handle the hills. 🙂

  13. Ana says:

    What an interesting (and true!) perspective. I walk most everywhere, even if its faster to take the bus, also because of the difference between soul-filling and soul-sucking! I am really lucky that my route to work involves crossing a bridge with a gorgeous view of the city (that I take the time to look at maybe 30% of the time?) I often end up taking longer routes when I’m with my dog (she’s scared of busy traffic, so we stick to small alleys) and kids (need wide, uncrowded sidewalks for the stroller), but I’ve never thought specifically of “beauty” in planning my route. i hope that yahoo project makes its way to my city, I’d love to find some new paths!

  14. Corby says:

    Don’t even get me started….LA traffic. Oh my. When I have to take the freeway I focus on the sky and it’s amazing blue color and I enjoy the tall Palm trees above the fray. I put in a good book or listen to classical music. And when I can, I plan my trip to take me by the ocean

  15. EricaM says:

    I hate the road I have to drive too. You either have to get stuck in the midst of big semis, or risk passing and having a tailgater get right on your bumper and flash their lights at you for *only* doing ten miles over the speed limit! (“Iowa Nice” doesn’t exist on the Interstate, apparently.) Maybe I’ll try the county roads some day and see how much more time they take. I come home more stressed from the drive than anything at work.

  16. Amy says:

    My husband and I moved from the Chicago burbs to Nashville 11 years ago, right after we got married. I used to drive Roosevelt Road all the time! My hubby lived in Lombard for a good part of the time we dated and I was in Bartlett. Golf Road up there is another soul-sucking route! The Chicago burbs are actually full of them! That’s one of the many reasons I love Nashville: it’s so much more puurty!

  17. My church’s womens’ retreats are always in the local mountains, and the drive up the mountain makes me terribly nervous. I used to carpool with friends, and no matter who was driving, I just prayed and tried not to look over the edge of the road. But then one year, I had to drive myself, and that was the year that the mountain road was temporarily closed because of an accident. All traffic was rerouted from Canyon Road to Old Canyon Road. It is a one-lane, tree-canopied road where cars are forced to drive at a slower speed ~ perfect for me! I have never gone back to Canyon Road. 🙂

  18. Tim says:

    They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but it can also be – as you say – soul suckingly awful. I grew up in a family that took the scenic route often, and Sunday drives were a fairly regular event. Then again, when you live in Northern California it’s hard not to drive where the scenery is beautiful and captivating. 😉

    Tim

    P.S. When I read your headline today I immediately thought of Supertramp:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwaRvALFRcQ

  19. MelissaJoy says:

    The “el” provides a tad more interest in the Chicago commute because at least you can shut your eyes and plug your ears. Roosevelt everyday…ick! The worst stretch of highway in my commuting life was 380 which runs between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Angry breadwinners who couldn’t get there fast enough. The snow and ice made it ten times worse.
    Truth and beauty bring sanity to me and I always welcome that path even if it’s a better trip to Target. The Sound of Music soundtrack is a nice divergence from city traffic too.

  20. Leigh Kramer says:

    God bless Roosevelt Road. During my years of Chicago-Wheaton commuting, I amassed all kinds of short-cuts and runarounds for when the highways clogged and the main roads backed up. I’d rather keep moving, even if it is the longer way home. The same has proved true in Nashville!

  21. Jessica says:

    Consider this – I counted the number of fast food joints I passed on the way to work one morning – OVER 70 places in a 20 mile one-way drive. Most of these are on the busy rd., Pentleton Pike which runs through a generally lower economic-area.

    No wonder my children know McDonalds, Taco Bell, Hardee’s, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, they see them ALL the TIME.

    This becomes stressful because not only am I constantly tempted to pick up a quick snack at one of the 5 Starbucks I drive by, my boys are pleading to stop too. (So annoying!) so if you’re in Indianapolis, Take Fall Creek up to the Northeast side and avoid Pendleton Pike like the plague.

  22. Breanne says:

    I had a similar revelation on our big trip this summer. We typically chose the prettier routes because if we were going to be driving all the distance, it should be beautiful. The times we had to take the main interstates were much more stressful and I arrived at our destinations feeling exhausted even though I had just been sitting all day.

    Perhaps an HSP thing, perhaps also our souls know we need the nourishment.

  23. Stephanie says:

    If I didn’t love your blog enough, you mentioned Roosevelt Road! I used to teach in Maywood, but lived in the city. Occasionally I would run errands on the way home & everything was on Roosevelt. There are very lovely suburbs, but I remember I would think (while driving to the Target or WalMart) if I was ever going to have to live in the suburbs of Chicago, I would rather just move back to Indianapolis. (& after eight years of city living…I moved back!)

  24. Shannon Miller says:

    Oh my word, Anne! I have never met anyone else who understood this! My husband thinks I am nuts:) We live in a beautiful old antebellum town with tree lined streets and white columned homes, but also a college with jaywalkers and downtown stop and go traffic. Everyone else takes the shorter, faster way even though it’s through a junkier part of town. But I can tell an immediate difference in my own attitude the minute I turn towards the “emotionally pleasant” drive.

  25. Jessica says:

    I always make my husband drive when we’re going through or around Chicago, so I can’t imagine living there. Both places we have lived have been right by really busy commercial streets and I get so sick of them!

  26. Karlyne says:

    I don’t have GPS, but I have always had a penchant for maps, and that’s given me some of the most beautiful drives in the world. Including one where I was taking the scenic route from Winnemucca, Nevada, to Mountain Home, Idaho and discovered that the new-to-me truck I was driving did not have a jack. And I discovered that because I blew a tire in the middle of the desert, gravel road and all. Thank the Good Lord for a truck load of hunters and their 12 year old sons, who managed to crawl all over and get it changed for me. I still pray for those adorable kids.

    And, oh, yes, it was an incredibly scenic mountainous road after the desert part, with aspens turning gold and little rivers and lakes all along the cliffs that I crawled along with my spare tire installed. You’d think that adventure would have cured me, but it hasn’t…

  27. Jeanne says:

    Love this! I am vehemently anti-GPS and love taking the long road, my husband is the same and I grew up with my dad turning off into any side road, just to have a look! Pre-kids I still had my convertible and drove around with the top down year-round.
    I fell in love with my city, Johannesburg in South Africa, all over again! Long live the long road!

  28. Jillian Kay says:

    You nailed why I still insist on taking metro to work instead of driving even if it does take longer and is expensive. It’s worth it to me not to feel like a total basket case. Also, I get to read.

  29. LoriM says:

    I remember Roosevelt Road, though I didn’t have to drive it often in the years I lived in West Chicago (actually 30 miles west of Chicago with Wheaton and several other towns in between). I did take the train to Chicago for 18 months – that was fun – for a while.

    Now I live in the NW Detroit suburbs, working in Ann Arbor and a couple years ago when there was construction on the fast highway route, I discovered some back roads which I still take sometimes (except THIS summer there’s construction on THAT route!). I would actually sit at my desk and dream of my leafy afternoon trip home. Ahhh… the green…

    We have a park road/route (Hines Drive, Northville to Dearborn Heights for locals) to church which is beautiful – but slow. I’m always trying to talk the husband in to driving that way. This summer our main highway route to church is COMPLETELY closed for MAJOR construction and it’s been – interesting. Luckily we spend most weekends at a house on a lake so we’re not dealing with traffic at all. Can’t wait to move there for good!

  30. Anne says:

    You lived in Illinois! I live in Illinois! 🙂

    But not the ‘burbs.

    What a lovely post. It’s like you have your own White Way of Delight. 😉 Thanks for letting us know about the Yahoo project. How inspiring.

    As for beauty versus efficiency, this is why I can’t shop at Wal-Mart anymore. The overhead lights, the cavernous feeling, the grating colors…..I might get everything in one stop (and more cheaply), but the experience always left me drained. I enjoy my local Kroger’s much more for aesthetics, music, and better service.

  31. Lucy says:

    I recently had a very similar experience! For the last two years, my commute home has been an hour of stop-and-go on a 4 lane highway which often left me cranky and emotionally spent. Recently, I discovered a back way from work to home through several really nice neighborhoods and towns. Instead of getting frustrated when faced with hoards of super aggressive Massachusetts drivers, I drive through neighborhoods with families out walking dogs, schools, and pretty houses. My attitude and outlook has really improved just by changing my route!

  32. This inspired me to look up how much extra time it will take me to avoid the road I hate (I-24 … just not a good Interstate driver) when driving to Libbie’s new elementary school (NEXT WEEK. AGHHH!). One extra minute from where I am going to drop David for his prek ride. OH HECK YEAH. 🙂 I love taking back roads but too often I listen to my GPS.

  33. 'Becca says:

    We drive between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia several times a year. The PA Turnpike has some lovely scenery…but it’s full of giant trucks, and the service plazas offer a limited selection of high-priced cruddy food. Often, we choose to take U.S. 30, which adds about an hour to the trip but has even better scenery, less threatening traffic, much more charm, and many many more options for rest stops.

    When my son was in preschool, I found a much nicer way to walk between the school and my office by going just a tiny bit out of my way: I didn’t know that was a forest!

  34. Jessica says:

    I grew up in Naperville and thought I understood traffic until I moved to Southern California. Thankfully, we don’t have to drive all that far very often but when we do, I prefer the more relaxing and visually pleasing ride all the way. Heck, I even pay $12 sometimes to take the tollroads out to a friends house (it’s only 30 miles away!) simply because the roads are empty and you drive through the mountains. An occasional $12 beats the misery I’d endure sitting on the 91.

  35. Lucy Keating says:

    I live in Skokie, a north suburb (not north shore suburb) of Chicago and we too have our ugly main roads (i.e Dempster St.) but I’ll put up with that for the experience I had recently when I drove my husband to his office on LaSalle St. in downtown Chicago. Traveling southbound on Lake Shore Drive, sun shining, lake on the left, “Sweet Home Chicago” playing on the radio. Indeed.

    • Anne says:

      That sounds amazing. Chicago is one of my favorite cities and that makes me want to go there right now! (But I’ll wait till September. I love the city in September. 🙂 )

  36. Diana Hall says:

    My hubs and I are always looking for alternate routes. We try to take different routes to and from on trips. We all need some variety and adventure. I, however, also prefer the slower 2-lane roads and avoid “freeways” whenever possible. It is so much better for the nerves!

  37. Thanks so much for this article. When we lived in Lake Geneva WI and my DH was working in Downtown Chicago, we learned it was both more thrifty and pleasant to take the train in from Crystal Lakes. I am willing to sacrifice a bit of time for beauty. It is something that grounds me and helps restore the idea of a ‘bigger picture’ in life. Now that we live in the south end of the Salt Lake valley in Utah, we often take the train downtown instead of driving it even though it takes longer. It is so beautiful that we have encouraged friends and family to try the ‘Trax’.

  38. Christy says:

    I didn’t even realize this was a “thing” but I’ve been doing it for a long time.

    On long trips, I would rather drive 100 miles out of my way and avoid I-95 craziness, and I often do. The shortest route just isn’t worth the spike in blood pressure I experience when I see that the car behind me is two inches behind my bumper, trying to find a wrinkle in the space-time continuum so that he or she can get by all the other cars that are trying to go where we’re going.

    I used to do it old-school with a map or just by guessing which road would go where, or by knowing a place really, really well, but I have a horrible sense of direction and I’ve moved a lot and my life has been completely revolutionized by GPS. Now I can experiment without fear anywhere. Even new places where I would never have gotten my bearings enough in less than a year.

    I recently moved to a new town and found I had no sense of where anything was relative to anything else because my GPS kept dumping me onto a (pretty pleasant small) highway, and *poof* I’d pop out an exit and be there with no real sense of what was between me and home. I finally realized that if I went to “avoidances” and turned on “highway”, the GPS would guide me through actual, real neighborhoods so I could learn the lay of the land and find new places I might not otherwise discover. I’m also a big fan of my GPS’s “detour” function, which, if I hit it, will route me around anything unpleasant or annoying and is another good way to find alternate routes even when there isn’t an accident or traffic jam.

    • Karlyne says:

      Thanks for giving me an insight into I-95! We live right off of US-95 in Idaho, and, frankly, it had never dawned on me that there was a difference until you mentioned it. And, what we may whine about in the way of traffic is, uh, not much! So, I’m glad you’ve found a way to avoid it in your neck of the woods.

  39. Christy says:

    Haha, interesting. The Oregon-Idaho version (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_95_in_Idaho) sounds vastly more pleasant than the Maine-Florida version (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_95). The “little” section between about Maryland and Maine encompassing Baltimore, DC, NJ, New York City, and Boston is especially stressful, but of course you can find craziness in states as small as Rhode Island and Delaware, as far North as Portland, ME and as far south as Miami, FL.

    • Karlyne says:

      Parts of US-95 are pretty barren, and middle of nowhere-ish, but parts of it are gorgeous beyond belief, mountains and green valleys, rivers and canyons. Truck traffic can be what we call heavy, but I suspect you’d laugh at us.

  40. Erin says:

    Wow! I have never thought about this. I get off the interstate from time to time, but with my regular commute this doesn’t change much other than giving me something to actually look at. When I was in high school and finally able to drive I would do this every day. I loved driving that tree lined route in every season and it always refreshed my soul. Even now, just thinking about it is having the same results.

  41. ruth says:

    One year I worked a full hour from home. I discovered the best audiobook (after Harry Potter) in the world that year. And I discovered the most beautiful road in my state. I still drive that road when I go visit my parents, and it never fails to calm, soothe, and delight me.

  42. Cathy Armour says:

    I pay 12%, or more, for organic groceries instead of “the easy and inexpensive way”. I cook mostly from scratch because it’s better for me. Why won’t I take 12% longer to drive the beautiful route and be emotionally blessed. GREAT POINT!

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